Anyone who has ever surfed the internet in a quest for enlightenment about British theatre will undoubtedly have come across the West End Whingers’ blog. By now, Andrew and Phil have become internet blogging stars, doing for theatre what Belle de Jour did for prostitution with only slightly less lubricant. Andrew and Phil have ranted against ticket prices, bar prices, fringe theatre and the general state of affairs since 2006, accumulating a huge fan base and a few enemies along the way.
What's with all the whinging?
Phil: It's what we do best.
Andrew: Play to your strengths, we always say.
Phil: People are under the misconception that theatre is always to be enjoyed.
Andrew: Mostly it has to be endured.
Which kind of theatre do you like, then?
Phil: Cheap, short and starry. And with a proscenium arch.
Andrew: Good theatre. Most of it isn't; hence the whinging. But, for the record, we have in the last year greatly enjoyed Frost/Nixon, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Faust, The Glass Menagerie, Elling, The Drowsy Chaperone, Attempts on her Life, Boeing, Boeing and Saint Joan.
What's the worst thing you've seen?
Both: Resurrection Blues.
Phil: And I once caught a glimpse of Andrew's pajamas.
You often leave at the interval. Wouldn't it make for a more informed subsequent review if you stayed?
Phil: You make it sound as though "informed" is a good thing.
Andrew: The thing is, it's really important to understand that if you're not enjoying yourself you can leave. People think they can't, but they can. Just go. Watch the respect on the face of the cloakroom attendant. Go to a pub, have a drink and pull it to pieces. Enjoy yourself. That's what an evening out is all about.
Phil: We don't leave at the interval enough really, it's our right as paying members of the audience. And it frees up precious drinking time.
Given that ticket prices can be quite steep, don’t you feel that you’ve wasted your money if you leave at the interval?
Phil: I think I'd feel that I'd wasted my money more if I sat through the second act having hated the first. When you think about it it's just silly going back if you're not getting anything out of it.
Andrew: And it is quite cheap. We rarely pay full price for seats. There are endless ticket offers, the TKTS booth and so on. Front stalls seats at the National Theatre are only £10 which is cheaper than going to the cinema in the West End.
Phil: The only difficulty is making a call on how busy a play is going to be. We paid full whack to see The Lady from Dubuque because Dame Maggie always sells out, but it was available at the TKTS booth most nights.
Isn’t there a possibility that you miss out on a great second act, though?
Andrew: There is a possibility that one would miss out on a great second act but I wouldn't describe it as a risk exactly. It's not life or death.
Phil: And I can only think of two shows in which the second act provided vastly more than the first act promised. One was Philistines at the National. The other was The Wonderful World of Dissocia at the Royal Court - terrible first act, brilliant second act. It doesn't happen very often.
Andrew: The odds are definitely against it. But if you got halfway through eating a fish and decided it was off, you wouldn't eat the rest of it, would you?
Phil: But as you're a vegetarian, you wouldn't have the fish anyway, would you?
Phil: So that's a rubbish analogy.
Do you get hate mail from theatre producers?
Andrew: No. But we write quite a lot of it to them.
Phil: We'd welcome some back.
Andrew: Set designer Lez Brotherston - or someone using his name - left a comment on the website saying we were a pair of "underachieving sad cocks". Which - to be fair to him - is true.
What is your favourite theatre in London and why?
Andrew: That's a tricky one. You get most opportunities to whinge at the National Theatre because they have three "spaces" but that seems like an unfair advantage.
Phil: Any with good sight-lines. Oh, and did we mention a proscenium? The Novello has a pretty ceiling but it leaks when it rains.
Andrew: The Apollo Victoria is a beautiful Art Deco confection...
Phil: ..marred only by the fact that Wicked is on there.
Andrew: And Phil really likes that round bit in the foyer of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, don't you? It always makes him feel rather grand.
Do you, indeed, hate the Fringe? If so, what's wrong with it?
Phil: No, we don't hate the fringe, although we're not much struck on the audiences. The fringe can make for a good night out except for the fact that it's mostly in zone 2 or worse.
Andrew: But we can't really whinge about it. It doesn't seem fair if you're only paying £8 and the actors are probably getting less than that.
Phil: It's a bit like tripping a dwarf.
Andrew: But that dwarf actually gave you a really good kicking after, didn't he?
Phil: That's true, actually.
West End Whingers love:
Seeing real food consumed on stage. REAL stars. The Stephen Sondheim bits which have proper tunes. A proscenium arch. Dames of the British Empire. Short plays. The curtain call.
West End Whingers detest:
Traverse staging/"In the round". Unallocated seating. Sung-through musicals. Theatre bar prices. The price and front covers of the programmes at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Puppets. Any production that features a park bench in it.
What’s next on your ‘to see’ list and why?
Phil: All About My Mother at the Old Vic. Not sure why.
Andrew: Because it's there?
The West End Whingers' blog is here.